Commentary : The short life of ecclesiastical exhortations
Asuncion David Maramba
Inquirer News Service
"PERSONALLY, I'm not very happy with the reaction," Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said. He "was convinced the President had not done enough in response to the July 9 statement of the CBCP," the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines ("Restoring Trust: A Plea for Moral Values in Philippine Politics" -- to refresh our short memories).
For the time being, let us leave President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to her conscience, which I trust will never leave her. What I was enthusiastic about was not just the call to Ms Arroyo but the call to you and me, a call that went beyond the usual "Let us pray" bit.
In that pastoral statement was expressed a very concrete proposal to do something: "We urge our people in our parish and religious communities, our religious organizations and movements, our Basic Ecclesial Communities to come and pray together, reason, decide and act together always to the end that the will of God prevail in the political order ... People ... should come together and dialogue in order to move the country out of its present impasse." The Inquirer editorial last July 12 noted its significance; so did Manuel L. Quezon III on July 14.
There is nothing trifling or easy about this call to action; to meet and examine whether Gloria still has the moral ground to govern. This is nothing less than a challenge on a virtually political undertaking most churchgoers regard as alien to churchgoing.
Nevertheless a group of friends met informally in response to the call "to come together." It was a small group of six, fed-up and quite desperate about the situation. It was brainstorming of the loosest kind. We flitted from one concern to another. Clearly the group was seeking direction and focus.
If the movement, for movement it is, ever gets off the ground, certain questions have to be answered: Who will set up the mechanics and formulate the guidelines for the meetings? What questions or points will be discussed in this "bill of particulars"? How long will the meetings be? Who will facilitate? What figures or data are needed? What will the objective and focus be? Perhaps some pattern or sequence similar to the favorite observe-judge-act can be adopted. Lest the discussion-dialogue degenerates to direction-less monologues or gripe sessions without arriving at "findings" or conclusions, such guidelines have to be drawn.
Another problem has to be cleared besides the who-how-what. If the pews do talk back, to whom will the conclusions and recommendations be submitted? To a collecting-coordinating-collating body? To the media? Will there be some body or person to guarantee that something will come of the effort?
I ask such questions because one wonders, for example, whatever happened to the "observations and suggestions" asked of parishioners during the last Priests' Congress. Were their papers taken seriously or thrown away, or were only the agreeable ones considered? Why go through an exercise that will be ignored anyway?
If seriously attempted, such gatherings can be done. The laity in every other parish is rich with organizing talents. The Catholic Church is the biggest network in the country with captive audiences every Sunday, over-achieving in devotions and charitable works but under-achieving in human development and education endeavors. For example, not a few have commented that while the Church insists on natural birth control, it has not taken advantage of its vast parish network to teach it.
If this exercise goes through, a good cross-section of the country can be covered. As such, its results would be more reliable than today's debased rallies that are a little more than a contest in numbers (read: "hakot," hauled-in) and so much "political noise," ill-disguised as prayers and healing.
But alas, not even two months after July 6, the exhortation, like a passing wind, now seems to have gone the way of such statements. Are fleeting life spans and natural deaths the fate of ecclesiastical exhortations, so easily forgotten by sender or receiver?
The Church, however, has not forgotten. Bishop Iñiguez, deploring the neglect, may be echoing the sentiments of the bishops who may be watching Ms Arroyo. But Ms Arroyo seems to be "skirting the truth." Will she be able to turn back the cycle of politicking, "rewarding," "avenging" or face-lifting?
And how about us? Will anything come out of the call for some concerted action on our part? If the effort of our small group will come to naught for lack of guidance or support, the least we can do is include ourselves in the examination of conscience. Ms Arroyo may be "deserving of the highest scrutiny" -- she is not yet absolved. Neither are all the lesser government officials down to the "barangay" [village] council chair. Neither are we.
"What kind of Christianity have we been living?" asked Father Tanseco, S.J., after noting that we, the only Christian country in Asia, have produced the two most corrupt Catholic presidents and the second most corrupt country in the region. Father Jaime Bulatao, S.J., called it split-level Christianity, one kind for inside the church and another, outside. We keep the two apart, like oil and water. Believe it. A priest, no less, asked of someone who was trying to live "whole": Can't he compartmentalize?
Are we also living the same political culture practiced and perpetrated by our politicians whom we roundly condemn? If we choose a candidate mainly for "connection" and if we put down our spoon in the middle of a meal and fall over each other to greet the mayor who has just walked in -- two hours late -- then we are part of the problem.
Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org; fax +632 8210659